And the blind apprehension of symbols
In the 1st Century, a woman driven by the felt experience of colonial cruelty, and broken treaties, led her tribespeople and neighbouring tribes, toward Camulodunum (now Colchester, England), and razed the settlement and Temple of Claudius to the ground.
Queen Boudica. And her raped daughters.
Now, I’ve long been fascinated by this practice of deifying the deceased Caesar. Of building temples in the name of a victorious god-man. Being a Christian, I might say, and know, the Christ-man Jesus inverted this kind of practice - teaching that the meek shall inherit the earth - but it is quite apparent that once his symbol was apprehended by state power, (and even before this, once things grew tragically desperate in 1st Century Palestine), there was a great demand for this vulnerable, earthen one to be remodelled into a victorious, invulnerable, god king.
No rewrite can negate the reconciling story of one who went low where others might go high. Of one who suffered the paradoxes, and lived in the cracks of the Roman Empire. But it is always much better for power, if a good idea, a healing action, can be apprehended. Mined. Used.
We also might say that no matter what ironic inverted victories he enacted, and no matter what myths were actually fulfilled and incarnated, the ripple effects that went out, and are ever going out, were not and are still not “got” by the majority, and even not “got” by those of us drawn to irony.
And so it came to pass, that in the homeland where this self-donating energy poured out, the very symbol of that self-donation marched back, 3 centuries later, and built a church in his victorious name. Unsurprisingly, the command to do this was issued by Constantine… Roman Emperor.
Back to Boudica… we know the story ends with 50,000 tribespeople facing off with a very strategical Roman army, and losing. Many of the surviving tribespeople either fled further West (Wales, West Country, Ireland), or were assimilated into Roman ways, over the next 4 centuries, until the Saxons broke their mercenary agreement and took on the Romans themselves.
Dark ages. Feral times.
Rome returns - via church power.
And so on and so forth with this kind of energy, be it Church of England’s dissolution of the monasteries… or other forms of taking a symbol, and using it toward an end it never intended to begin with.
Fast forward to the 19th Century. The Victorian Age. Nostalgia was running high. The Spiritualist movement was in full swing. As was the British Empire.
Boudica comes back on the scene, in the hearts and minds of the folk.
Near Big Ben, in London, there is a statue of Boudica and her daughters that was erected, both to bolster confidence in Queen Victoria’s abilities as a woman leader, and to make a symbol that showed the might of the British Empire itself.
As I write this in the ancestral lands of the Anishinaabe people, I can’t help but notice a similarity of usage… the vulnerable Cross marching back into Jerusalem as mighty and victorious … and a statue of a tribeswoman who fought for her people’s sovereignty, symbolized at the very center of a power, now robbing many nations of their sovereignty.
Why do I write any of this though?
Because, I think we are in a time that requires a kind of desert abba and amma vigilance.
But note this: in place of suspicion, and lack of trust, and eye-for-an-eye surveillance, we need robust, long-suffering attention, and the risk of relationship, and what Cynthia Bourgeault has called the “donation of unearned trust”. We need an actual, physical, rolling up of our own sleeves, in place of the inability to be with discomfort. There is no doubt that the symbols that represent goodness to us, good action, beautiful ways, are being apprehended. We are outsourcing the tender loving care our earth mother needs, to power structures. For one.
We’ve crossed over this past year or so… as everything gets more acute, there is deep work happening on and in the ground… and therefore, things are coming to a head.
I confess, I have been drawn many times to William Blake’s vehement abhorring of the Age of Enlightenment. But something in me fires a warning… I now can’t fully embrace, or at least dare not harness, that particular Blakean energy, in our own moment.
We’re in full swing of the anti-rational now… a result of our impatience with the clinging mental age. And like the cross symbol, and the statue of Boudica, this anti-rational sentiment is being harnessed and harvested by blind power, and what comes with this apprehension, are not beautiful folk customs, or mystery, but it reminds me more of Winston in 1984, hauntingly tracing in the sand, “2 + 2 = 5”.
I cannot believe I am writing this, but we might want to, and probably very much need to take heed, as we depart the age of reason, because we are doing it without integrative energy… which leaves our primordial inheritances up for grabs.
To replace our need for folk tales, for mystery, for actual metaphor, with a sanitized post-truth cocktail bar, where any discomfort can be met instantly with a pre-mixed elixir, is not the way toward “standing on our own two feet”. *
The academy has often not had a hot clue of what to do with the actual power of metaphor. With the wildness of the actual.
For power to consume metaphor, and spit it out as post truth… makes it much more easily controllable, and more easily monetized, (at the very least).
Like the atomic bomb as dissected Trinity.
Like a “commons” that comes with an elite entry fee.
Maybe I’ve just been on the land too long… or I’ve been “Wendell Berry’d” into a delusion of the authority of the Christic presence within. But as I continue to work with the friction of epochal thresholds, there is something that tells me I must do the hard work of integrating, and even appreciating, the mental rational age. If for no other reason than that none of the ages should be handed over, for a bowl of instant soup.
And hidden inside of this wrestling may even hold part of the key to unlocking the achingly beautiful sacred masculine, and the breathtaking rising feminine.
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*His Holiness the Dalai Lama told Thomas Merton, that, after having walked out of his beloved Tibet, to form the Republic in Exile, “from now on brother, we stand on our own two feet”. In other words, there is something in true monasticism that knows what is imperishable… so “go not forth” too easily… be street smart and yet without suspicion. You have a birthright to mystery, to magic, to myth, to healthy reason, and beyond. And all of it belongs, always.
Lady Lorraine says: “Breath-taking piece: erudite, culturally and spiritually rich. I find I need to read it again. Beautiful and profound. You express mystery better than any current writer I know.”
This is a really good thing to find right now. I've just done my best to try and explain why I haven't been able to leave behind the tragic rational stories that I learned in my biology degree. I'd got to feeling I was trapped in them but I wonder now if I was just absorbing that idea uncritically from others.